DURHAM — Duke basketball prepared for the beginning of the end, as coach Mike Krzyzewski met with the media to announce that the upcoming 2021-22 season would be his last.
The announcement came 15,054 days after Krzyzewski was introduced as Duke head coach, in March 1980, as Duke president Vincent Price noted. That was 41 years, more than 1,100 wins and five national championships ago.
Price thanked the Hall of Fame coach for his service at Duke and announced that Krzyzewski would remain as an ambassador for the University. “There will always be a place at Duke for Coach K,” he declared.
With his wife, daughters and their families sitting directly in front of him, an emotional Krzyzewski reflected on his life in basketball.
Coach K addressed his reason for stepping down, saying it wasn’t due to the health of either him or his wife, Mickie. “Whether I look healthy, I am,” he said.
He also rejected several other potential reasons for retiring now.
“It’s not about COVID,” he said. “It’s certainly not about what’s going on in college basketball. ‘The game’s changing!’ OK. I’ve been in it for 46 years. You think the game’s never changed before?
“That’s not the reason,” he continued. “Those aren’t the reasons. Those would be bad reasons. The reason we’re doing this is because Mickie and I have decided that the journey is going to be over in a year, and we’re going to go after it as hard as we possibly can.”
As for his post-retirement plans, Krzyzewski was vague and compared it to a coaching scheme. “To me, the motion offense means making reads, being adaptable,” he said.
Krzyzewski will turn the program over to assistant Jon Scheyer, who was present with all the other Duke assistant coaches, seated in the first row behind the Krzyzewski family.
Coach K said it was “extremely important” to have the plan for a successor mapped out before he announced his retirement, especially with recruiting beginning for the summer.
Krzyzewski said he would not take an active role in recruiting players he wouldn’t be around to coach, saying he wants “complete transparency and clarity,” on the recruiting trail.
Coach K looked back on his time at West Point to explain the importance of having Scheyer in place a year ahead of time.
“In the service, you are constantly looking at succession,” he said. “Wherever you go, you’re taking over for somebody in command, and that person helps you. It’s called continuity of excellence.”
Krzyzewski did the same thing with Team USA, working with his successor, Gregg Popovich, who he pointed out is “an Air Force guy” to maintain continuity with the national team.
“If you do not have somebody who can take command, you’re in trouble,” he said. “And we do (at Duke). I don’t want everything to end when I stop coaching. I want it to continue.”
Coach K was confident that Scheyer would be ready, pointing out that the coach-in-waiting is the same age — 33 — as he was when he took over at Duke.
“I just hope you’re first three years are better than mine,” he joked.
In a more serious moment, Krzyzewski gave Scheyer his stamp of approval, saying, “I’d follow Jon into any battle.”
Coach K acknowledged that there would be pressure on next year’s team as he goes through a “retirement tour” at each arena Duke visits.
“Don’t let them kid you,” he said he’d advise his team. “If anyone says thank you or whatever, once they throw the ball up, they want to beat us even more because it’s the last time. As a competitor, I know that. It’s my last time to beat your butt. Just don’t let it distract you.”
Krzyzewski made it clear that he hopes to have a strong team that will take one last shot at a national title next year. Then, all those hours normally spent breaking down film will be spent with his grandchildren and family.
“I’ve loved what I do,” he said. “If you work at what you love, it’s not work.”